You scratch my back …
We’ve all heard about it, in hushed whispers and disgusted tones. Some of us have even experienced it, not just in the dead of night, but in broad daylight. In part one of this FOCUS exposé on bribery and corruption, GAVIN MYERS hears the financially crippling story of a young truck driver, and his endeavour to get behind the wheel.
Dan* grew up dreaming of becoming a pilot – a dream not unfamiliar to a lot of young men, as is the realisation that they will not be able to follow this dream. “We never had the money for me to attend the pilot’s school,” he tells me. “So I decided to drive instead.”
Twenty-three-year-old Dan got his code 10 driving licence at the age of 18 and began giving lifts to family and friends, working for his uncle and giving lessons to code 8 learners in the testing yard. “I then discovered that if I upgrade my licence, I can earn more money to support my family,” he says.
And so Dan did what any other reasonable person would’ve done. He began going for lessons at the Aeyako/Greenway Driving School in the Johannesburg CBD and, in August 2013, set out to book a date for his code 14 heavy-vehicle drivers’ licence test. Little did he know of the frustration and financial implications that were to come …
“I was told that at Roodepoort it was easier to get a date,” he begins. “At Randburg I would’ve had to wait for January or February. Roodepoort told me the same thing, but they said they could get me cancellations.” In other words, for a small fee, they could organise Dan an earlier date. The Langlaagte testing station, just outside the Johannesburg CBD, was also fully booked, and to hire a truck to take the test there would cost R2 000.
With this, Dan took the decision to lay out the R50 for the required ID-sized photos, R230 it costs to make a booking, and the R750 to “buy” a date at Roodepoort. “When you book you have to ‘buy’ a date,” he says. Use of the truck also cost R1 500 with the total outlay amounting to R2 530.
Dan took the test – and failed.
“The first time they said I didn’t have enough points for observing the poles [during reversing and parking],” he explains. “They said I had to book again and the instructor told me I had to give them money to pass the licence, but I said I didn’t have any. They said I was supposed to have money for ‘cooldrinks’. I said I don’t have money for cooldrinks, because I’m not working and my aunt was paying for the driving school. But they just ignored me,” he says despondently.
Another R2 530 later, Dan was ready to take the test again. Once again he was told he did not have enough points to get the licence.
“I saw the forms; both times they said there were not enough points for observation. I did do everything I needed to – the vehicle inspection, internal and external, mirrors, everything. I think they knew at the start that they would fail me. Another guy doing his test at 08:00 said the examiner didn’t even get inside the truck and failed him for not doing the inspection properly!”
The third time Dan was told in no uncertain terms that, if he “needed to get the licence”, he “needed to get the money”… Dan booked, yet again, at Roodepoort and was told by the driving school he would get a R200 discount for the third use of the truck.
“The third time I was supposed to bring the money; R5 000 (for the bribe) as well as the R1 300 for the truck hire. At the testing station I was shaky and nervous. I arrived at 09:30 and my test was at 10:00. I paid the R6 300 at the office – they [from the school] said they would give the R5 000 to the examiner. I think they are all working together. He said he couldn’t speak to me; he was going to speak to the examiner. The instructor told me to sit and wait for the examiner. Then 15 minutes later they came back and said okay, I’ll get the licence.”
Unsurprisingly, Dan passed. “But I was even short for the money for the temporary licence,” he says.
I asked Dan about his experience five years earlier, when he got his code 10 at the Randburg testing station. “It was straightforward,” he says. “I got it the first time and didn’t have to pay any money. It just cost me R350 for the truck.”
Would he consider reporting the driving school and/or the instructors at the testing station?
“My aunt and my mother told me I must write a statement, but I was scared of losing the licence,” he explains. “I spent quite a lot of money. My aunt and mother were also assisting me and were very cross.
“I think the schools and examiners are working together. My heart gets broken when I see these guys going for lessons; I know they are going to have to pay to get a licence,” he says, adding, “if I know of someone else wanting to do their test, I will tell them to try another driving school as this one will just eat their money.”
Dan relates the story of “another guy” who went through the same driving school, and was asked for money as well. “He didn’t do the test. He just finished the lessons and left because they were asking for more and more money!
“I also wouldn’t refer them to Roodepoort,” he says. In early February, Dan went to collect his licence from the testing station and received it without a fuss.
“I really wish I didn’t have to do it this way,” Dan says distressed, “but, when you are desperate, they almost leave you no choice.”
* Not his real name.